French cleric suspended over sex abuse crashes Vatican’s priesthood conference

La Croix International [France]

February 18, 2022

By Robert Mickens

Tony Anatrella, a former psychoanalyst with important connections in the Roman Curia, has been suspended from public ministry and speaking engagements since 2018

What would happen if a prominent Catholic priest who’s been suspended for sexually abusing seminarians were to show up at a major Vatican conference — on the future of the priesthood, no less?

Do you think the organizers would tell him to hit the road or invite him to stay for lunch at the pope’s residence?

No kidding. Something similar to this actually happened. Not years or decades ago. It happened this week.

The priest was Tony Anatrella, a cleric and former psychoanalyst who was suspended by the Archdiocese of Paris in July 2018 following years of accusations that numerous young men had brought to the attention of Church officials.

The 81-year-old priest was among the 400 or so participants who gathered in the spacious Paul VI Hall on Thursday to hear Pope Francis give the keynote address for the three-day symposium that’s been organized by Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

Later that day Anatrella and some of the other attendees dined at the Casa Santa Marta where Francis resides.

Loup Besmond de Senneville of La Croix was the one who broke the news.

He said sources confirmed that the elderly French priest had registered as “Mons. Tony Anatrella” and had picked up his credentials Thursday morning just before the conference opened.

Still making excuses and shifting the blame

Vatican organizers insisted that Anatrella had not been invited to the symposium but had merely registered as any other participant. And they pointed out that an Italian company was hired to oversee logistics of the international gathering, including its registration process.

If that’s true, the Roman Church’s much criticized handling of the sex abuse crisis over the years is even worse than we thought. Or to put it a different way — Church officials are still trying to make excuses and shift the blame.

First of all, even if an outside company handled the logistics, did no one among the Vatican organizers — chief among them Cardinal Ouellet — think that maybe it might a good idea to check who had actually signed up for symposium?

Just for security reasons alone. After all, the registered participants were going to be in the same room with the pope.

Second of all, Anatrella isn’t just any old priest. He’s been a fixture around the Vatican for many years, serving as one of its most influential advisors on sexual matters.

Up until just a few years ago, he was officially linked to at least three major Roman Curia departments and is believed to have been the principal author of a 2005 document from the Congregation for Catholic Education against admitting gay men to the seminary.

Friends in high places

Tony Anatrella is well known in Roman Church circles. Sources said he was even seen speaking one-on-one with Cardinal Ouellet on Friday morning before the second day of the symposium got underway.

But that was before Besmond de Senneville posted his article about Anatrella on La Croix’s website.

Marc Ouellet is one of a number of cardinals and bishops that have backed the priest- psychoanalyst’s work. The French-Canadian, who has headed the Congregation for Bishops since 2010, has endorsed his writings and even wrote the introduction for one of his books.

The first Vatican cardinal to promote Anatrella and his ideas — and some of them are rather bizarre and certainly questionable, like claims of “curing” people of homosexuality — was the late Alfonso Lopez Trujillo (d. 2008) who recommended the French priest be named an advisor to the former Pontifical Council for the Family that the archconservative Colombian cardinal headed for many years.

Even Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, praised Anatrella as recently as 2016 during a conference on celibacy the French priest helped organize at the Gregorian University. The cardinal noted that he was a “psychoanalyst, specialist in social psychiatry, advisor and collaborator for various dicasteries of the Roman Curia”.

Cardinal André Vingt-Trois: friend and protector

But Anatrella’s greatest ally throughout his career has been Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris from 2005-2017. The two men went to seminary together and are close friends.

Vingt-Trois was one of the three presidents-delegate of the Synod of Bishops extraordinary assembly on the Family in 2014 when Anatrella was named one of about dozen collaborators of the assembly special secretary, Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte.

The following year Anatrella spoke at a Vatican gathering for recently ordained bishops on the topic of clergy sex abuse, making headlines when he insisted that bishops and priests were not obliged to report abuse cases to civil authorities.

That was 2015 and Cardinal Vingt-Trois was still at the helm in Paris. He and his predecessor, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, continually refused to seriously investigate accusations against Anatrella, which were first brought forward around 2001.

But the allegations against the priest were credible enough for Vingt-Trois to prohibit him from doing psychoanalysis at a certain point and then in 2016 to begin a canonical investigation.

However, it was not until Archbishop Michel Aupetit became ordinary in the French capital in 2017 that the investigation was fully carried out. It was overseen by the auxiliary at the time, Bishop Eric de Moulin de Beaufort, who is now archbishop of Reims and president of the French Bishops’ Conference.

It was Aupetit who suspended Anatrella in July 2018.

The archbishop announced this past July (2021) that there would be a full canonical trial against the suspended priest.

But no date was set for those proceedings. And, apparently, nothing has happened since.

The infuriating sound of silence

The 70-year-old Aupetit was already embroiled in a heated controversy last summer over his leadership style and decisions that angered some people in the archdiocese.

A French magazine eventually published a scathing article in November revealing that Aupetit had had an inappropriate relationship with an adult woman several years earlier when he was vicar general in Paris and not yet a bishop.

This prompted him to submit his resignation to the pope in December and just days later Francis said he was forced to accept it, “not on the altar of truth, but on the altar of hypocrisy”.

It’s depressing and infuriating that Tony Anatrella actually had the gall to show up at a Vatican symposium on the priesthood and that no one among the organizers — especially Cardinal Ouellet — had the good sense to refuse him admittance.

But at least the cardinal should be credited with firmly denouncing clergy sex abuse and its institutional cover-up, and for apologizing once more to all the victims.

He did that in his remarks at the very beginning of the symposium, just before turning the microphone over to the keynote speaker, Pope Francis, who made no mention of it all.